Barcelona and Real Madrid lock horns for the first Clasico of the 2018-19 season tonight (Sunday) at Camp Nou, in what would be an edge-of-the-seat thriller, considering both the title race and the teams’ present situations, tactics and players.
While Barcelona are one point clear at the top of the table, Madrid, who have constantly been hit and miss, are down at 8th place, four points adrift of the champions. While the league leaders have scored in each of their last 21 league matches against the Merengues, they have also not been able to claim three points in any of the previous three meetings between these two sides at the Nou Camp.
A lot of mathematical mismatches and tactical game plans are to be unfolded, but here’s all you need to know ahead of the game.
Barcelona will be without the services of their star man Lionel Messi. center-backs Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen are long-term casualties as well, which means summer signing Clement Lenglet is sure to start as a center-half. Ousmane Dembele, who spent the evening against Inter Milan as an unused substitute, is likely to remain on the bench. Real Madrid on the other hand, are sweating over the fitness of left-back Marcelo. However, he is most likely to see off the knock sustained during the 2-1 win over Czech Republic side Plzen. Elsewhere, Daniel Carvajal’s absence means Nacho will play at right back.
For Barcelona new signing Arthur Melo could be the key player. His guile, passing abilities and vision are the talk of the town at the moment. Against Valencia, he completed a staggering 135 passes out of 142 attempted. His presence and link-up play in midfield with Sergio Busquets will allow the likes of Rafinha and Coutinho to play further up the field.
For Real Luka Modric will be the key player inevitably. The onus will be on the Croatia skipper to rack up passes, create chances and take aim at goal whenever required. Should he establish control and dictate play, Los Blancos will undoubtedly have the most realistic chance of taking away all three points.
As Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui prepares for his first ‘Clasico’ against Barcelona, he will be wary that it could also be his last unless his side leave the Nou Camp with all three points.
Lopetegui drew the short straw in not only following Zinedine Zidane, who led the team to a hat-trick of Champions League triumphs, but also by becoming the first Real coach of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.
Real initially looked like a more cohesive unit without Ronaldo. There were early signs that Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio would take on more goal-scoring responsibilities.
But as Real went over eight hours without scoring, they were soon missing the presence of Ronaldo, who plundered 451 goals across nine seasons. Lopetegui has repeatedly said that his side’s problems stem from not converting chances rather than not creating them and statistics back him up. Real fired 23 shots at goal in the 1-0 defeat at CSKA Moscow and clanged the post twice. In last week’s 2-1 defeat by Levante, Real had 33 shots, hit the woodwork three times and had a goal ruled out by the video assistant referee (VAR). That wastefulness has been compounded by slack defending, such as conceding five times in the opening 20 minutes of games in all competitions. The coach has also been dealt a tough hand with injuries, from Isco missing a month due to appendicitis to Bale’s fitness problems returning. First-choice full backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal have also spent long periods out of action.
According to reports in the Spanish media, the club hierarchy do not view these injuries as mere mishaps. “Directors highlight that the physical state of many players leaves a lot to be desired,” said newspaper ABC.
“While the group has suffered injuries that have put the brakes on their progress, the hierarchy believe many players who have not been injured are not performing as they should be.”
Real may be languishing in seventh place in the standings but they are far from alone in struggling to find their feet in a wide-open, highly competitive La Liga campaign.
Barcelona suffered a freak 2-1 defeat by Leganes and went four games without a league win, while Atletico Madrid have failed to win over half of their games. Valencia, who finished fourth last season, have picked up only one victory.
The strife of other clubs is little consolation to 33-times league champions Real, who have dispensed with coaches days after winning league titles and European Cups.